VIDEO GAMES – What are they good for?
By Kandie Demarest
While my autistic son was delayed in language and social skills and had few interests outside of trains or videotapes, he was inspired, or shall we say obsessed, with one particular item. My Computer. Jackson, now 7 years old took a very early liking to computers. Back in infancy he’d strain from my lap to reach the computer as I typed articles, or from his infant seat he’d thrust his foot in the air and lean toward the glowing screen that captivated him. This love of computers broadened to include any highly visual, interactive games you find at the local arcade. As we walked into the pizza place or mall he would lean and wriggle trying to get free to play the games he was so instinctively drawn to. (Let me mention I am talking a toddler, not even 2 years old yet with this intense interest. We were puzzled by this high interest but continued to deny his chance to play the games since we were trying to raise our son in a non-violent method. We weakened and decided to let him play pin-ball games since they are pretty violence-free and could even help with eye-hand coordination.)
Over the following years we noticed how any time Jackson was able to use a video game system, at a relative’s house or at the store demo area, he excelled. He could easily defeat your average player-as a 4 year old he could defeat an adult! This was amazing given his delays in language and understanding and his social and emotional difficulties-He was delayed by about 2.5 years in other areas yet in this highly visual area he excelled. This was ego-boosting for him and also had a self-calming effect. Soon after realizing how beneficial video games could be for my son I softened and we got him his first system. After observing and playing with my son and his video games for the past 3 years I now often encourage other parents of autistic children to consider this type of toy for their very visual children. Video games provides the visual patterns, speed and storyline that our kids love while helping them refine basic skills that they might not grasp in your normal everyday setting. They also allow our unique kids an acceptable way to de-stress and mellow out while increasing their knowledge of peer-related topics.
* As with other tools, interaction is VITAL with video games. Sit with your child, play with your child and learn from your child.
Some of the therapeutic benefits my son has gotten from his use of video games:
1. Language –
a. Discussing and sharing.
b. Following directions (understanding prepositions etc.)
c. Giving directions
d. Answering questions
e. Having a discussion topic with visual aides to share with me
2. Basic Math and Reading Skills-
a. One day Jackson surprised me by answering my question of how many red coins he had by saying, “I have 5, I need 3 more!” WHAT? Yes, somehow, during playing and fun the basic math skills of addition had sunk in! No ABA
needed, no flashcards – just the fun and excitement of Mario collecting red
coins! (and this same week during speech therapy the SLP was trying to get
Jackson to count to 5 with him-she was stunned to here me say he could count to 100 if needed and he already knows addition. The key is finding what is
important to the individual and learning will click.)
b. When the games are being played the instructions and any character
dialogue are printed on the screen, this works great as sight-reading fuel.
The first words Jackson could read were PLAY, QUIT, GO, STOP, JACKSON,
INSTALL, LOAD, MARIO and HI– all words from the computer or video games.
3. Social Skills –
a. Having an interest that is popular with other children makes talking and
playing together so much easier. At the playground there is usually at least
one other video game fanatic that is happy to jump into re-enacting Mario 64 or Star Fox with Jackson.
b. Imaginative play booster. (especially with the figurines out now at video
stores) Since our autistic children are many times so visual, this leads
itself well to re-enacting the storylines with play figures or Beanie Babies.
This leads to more play skills later, as the learned acting out storylines
is generalized to other toys and even includes friends and family.